The Simon Fraser University campus on Burnaby Mountain has long been an art and design icon thanks to its 1960s Arthur Erickson architecture. Some have even called it a Brutalist acropolis, and multiple films have been shot there. But the campus doesn’t actually house an art or art history department; those departments are found at SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus.
Art will have a greater presence on Burnaby Mountain soon, though, with the announcement that SFU is planning a new 12,000-square-foot art museum for the site. Due to open in 2022, the new SFU Art Museum will replace the 1,000-square-foot SFU Gallery that has been on site since the 1970s. The museum will sit between the old Erickson-designed campus and a new residential development. (The SFU’s Teck and Audain Galleries, as well as the art and art history departments, will remain at the downtown campus.)
“It’s really going to be an interdisciplinary, pedagogical art museum,” says Melanie O’Brian, director of SFU Galleries. “For this campus, it makes sense to think about how art can be relevant between disciplines and across disciplines. I don’t even think there are many places we can look to as models. It’s exciting to reimagine the museum in this context.”
The art museum is made possible through what a university release calls “a significant gift from the Marianne and Edward Gibson Trust.” The late Edward Gibson was himself quite interdisciplinary in his approach: he was a former director of SFU’s Teck Gallery as well as an associate professor in the geography department. And he often worked with people in the art department on bringing social and political histories to bear on artmaking and art pedagogy.
“He was really influential to Ken Lum, for example,” O’Brian says of Gibson. “We have a work in the collection by Ken that incorporates a portrait he took of Edward.”
The new art museum plans would permit SFU to grow its art collection. “Right now we are at 100% capacity for our storage,” says O’Brian. It would be a fitting gesture to Gibson’s legacy to expand the collection in future—during his own time as gallery director in the 1980s and 1990s, the value of the collection increased from $387,000 to $2.5 million, largely through donations. It is now at 5,500 works, with 1,000 displayed through different university spaces at present.
As for next steps on the new SFU Art Museum, it’s getting the visioning right. “For a campus that is on top of a mountain, and not embedded in a city context, there’s a very different set of thinking that has to happen,” says O’Brian. “It’s exciting to think about how it can be relevant for teaching, how it can be relevant for collections. We will think about how artists interface with that through fellowships and residencies, too.”